Sandra Kelly of Whitbread on plugging the skills gap in hospitality

By Emma Eversham

- Last updated on GMT

Sandra Kelly of Whitbread on plugging the skills gap in hospitality

Related tags Work experience Apprenticeship Whitbread

Sandra Kelly, head of education at Whitbread, suggests ways the hospitality sector can best address its skills shortage.

How bad is the skills shortage in the hospitality industry?

Sandra Kelly-1

The biggest challenge is that young people are coming into organisations and are not work-ready. An area that has a particular skills shortage is chefs, but it has been like that for about 30 years. My personal view is that hospitality employers have not been as close to the educational system as they should be and have not had a chance to influence the curriculum for hospitality courses, so people are coming out of school and college without the right skills for work.

What is Whitbread doing to help turn things around? 

One thing we are doing which is having a big impact is getting in front of schools. Our management now go into schools to talk about hospitality and have set up connections with head teachers to be able to offer really structured work experience placements for students. Going in and talking to students helps us to break down the barriers and change perceptions about the industry by showing you can have a fantastic career in hospitality. 

We have partnered with an organisation called Believe in Young People which has improved that connection further. Hotel managers who have work experience to offer, for example, can access a portal also accessed by students looking for work experience. The portal can match up the right students to the right placements. That has had a huge impact on addressing the skills gap and colleges are extremely excited about it because they are measured on destination as much as grading so it's critical that they can connect with employers. 

We are also working with People 1st and management has worked alongside the Job Centres to build a really effective two week placement for people out of work. They are offered placements in places where there are vacancies so there are potentially jobs at the end of it. We have also worked with the Princes Trust to offer a longer, more structured programme to the young long-term unemployed. 

Once you have the staff what are you doing to retain them?

We offer an all-age apprenticeship so whether you're 16 or 60 you can take one up. Those are a mixture of self-funded and government-funded apprenticeships and we don't have an entry-criteria. The apprenticeship programme is a huge success. Thirty-four per cent of apprentices gain promotion with 15 months, so they are earning significantly more and some of the apprentices from 2011 to 2012 are now running hotels. 

We often take people on from placements too. We've got it into the mindset of our managers to think about those who have done placements when they have vacancies. We also keep a link with future employees if they've done a placement but are not yet ready to work as they're still in school or college. 

What can the hospitality industry do as a whole to address the skills gap and secure a well-trained future workforce?

I think the industry needs to be organised enough to set up an industrial partnership the way other industries have done. We'd need to get all the industry associations and groups together and as many will say, that's a minefield. However, industries that have set up an industrial partnership have a better chance of changing perceptions and closing the skills gap. 

As an industry we also need to make sure we have a reputable apprenticeship programme that allows people to continue working in the industry. I think the Richard Review, which supports the concept of employer ownership of apprenticeships is exactly the right direction and we support the proposals for that. 

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